Month: March 2014

Relationship Significance

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts can be found at www.polymeansmany.com.

relationship significance

I have ridden the relationship escalator. I got engaged at 20, married at 21 and 13 years later got divorced.

I got engaged because it’s what you did to show commitment, because my partner suggested that it was expected, and because I was happy to do so. Basically I got married because it’s what was expected by society/family.

I didn’t really question any of this, it was all assumed to be just what happened and hey, I was happy so I just went with the flow. It was all very traditional; to mark the engagement, my partner received a ring and I received a watch (not much of a ring kinda guy). To mark our wedding, we both had rings and Louise took (and still uses) my family name.

Time marched on, we got jobs, bought homes and soon another expectation loomed. For years we never really discussed the idea of having children, it just wasn’t something that either of us felt strongly about. Eventually, as we left our early 30s we decided that we wouldn’t have kids at all and told our families of our decision.

That was the first break with “societal expectation” (for want of a better term, if there is one) and possibly set me on the path to where I am now.

Relationship Significance

Skip forward several years, I’m now a divorcee and lucky enough to consider my ex to be a good friend.

Today I’m in two serious relationships, I am in love with two amazing women. We live separately, each of us enjoying having our own space, so (for now) co-habiting is something that we’ve yet to discuss seriously. Without that as an option, how do we mark the significance of our relationships?

Our shared view of polyamory presumes that marriage isn’t really part of the equation* and equally we don’t have the notion of primary/secondary status which marriage could, whether intended or not, imply. Similarly, the length of time I’ve been with Kirsty does not mean that that relationship is more important than my relationship with Clare, it’s just at a different place.

That said, I do find myself wondering about how to mark the importance of my relationships, but is that maybe down to the aforementioned “societal expectations”?

There is also the odd instances where people who don’t know you are poly will ask how your relationship (singular) is going and “hey, it’s been a while now, are there no thoughts of engagement?”

Part of me wonders if I’ve just not quite shaken off all those years of expectations but the nagging feeling that we SHOULD do something persists and if I’m honest, that’s what irks me. Why does part of me feel the need to make any kind of public statement about my relationships?

We have nothing to prove

I no longer believe in the need to have a certificate and a ring to prove my dedication to a relationship. I believe that my love does not need to be noted, or marked, in any way at all.

Yet part of me wants to be able to shout out that I am in love, that I am lucky to have two amazing women in my life. At the very least I would like a reminder that I can keep close.

But those things are for me, for us. There is no more reason for us to have some declaration or signifying act to communicate our relationship status to (our small part of) the world.

Or is there? Whilst “poly” is starting to be noticed in more mainstream channels, perhaps we should be making some more noise, shouting it from the rooftops? Do we have an obligation to polyamory?

Perhaps, but ultimately out relationships are ours and if we do find some way to mark their significance in some way, we will, but I certainly don’t feel beholden to any of the traditional, relationship escalator, displays.

Relationship Dynamics

There are, of course, also other important dynamics within our relationships that I would like to acknowledge over and above any notion of “celebrating being poly”.

I wear an item which marks the dynamic between myself and Kirsty, it’s a constant reminder of that part of our relationship and what it means to us. It’s always there and I like the fact that it makes me think of her.

Clare and I have a different dynamic and I’ve been pondering something, anything, to mark our relationship as well. We’ve not yet figured out what though but no doubt something will avail itself to us.

Defining Significance

One of the reasons I’ve embraced polyamory is because it’s not governed by a set of expectations. My/our relationships are ours to define and we decide what is, and isn’t, significant within our own set of boundaries and constructs.

My relationships are a massively important part of my life and perhaps the simplest way to acknowledge their importance is the fact that I can tell two women, honestly, that I love them.

That feels pretty damn significant to me.

 
* I am not against marriage as a construct, it just doesn’t work for me/us.
 
I will quote the following however:
“Historically, marriage had nothing to do with love. It was a legal contract and was about alliances, getting the right in-laws and adding to your property. Things have changed. Now marriage is about love, or at least it should be.” Sandi Toksvig

 

Podcasts

Podcasts

I’m way way behind the curve on podcasts and I’m laying the blame firmly on my parents and their use of radio.

I grew up in a house where music was the backdrop to most activities – my first hearing of Appetite for Destruction? My Dad loaned the cassette from the library and I walked in as Welcome to the Jungle kicked off, epic! – so I never really had much of a view of things like the Shipping Forecast, radio plays and so on. I’m sure my parents did listen to ‘talk radio’ on occasion just not when I was around so I’ve always associated radio with music.

I won’t bore you with tales of recording the Top 10 to cassette, but my maturing musical tastes have mirrored my growing distaste for radio DJs and all the talking, yak yak yak they go, largely spouting nonsense and noise when all I really want is to listen to the music. So I’d turn off the radio and start listening to my own music; the rise of the MP3 made this approach all the more satisfying.

Of course the real problem wasn’t radio at all, but my choice of radio stations. Thank heavens for the internet I say, as I’ve many more ways to find music I like and, as the charts descended in mass produced pap… sorry, pop, I increasingly looked to the Pitchforks of the world to find new music. For quite a while I eschewed all radio as, wrongly, rubbish.

Recently that’s been changing as I’ve switched on (sorry!) to the richness and depth of talk radio, and whilst that’s largely been via Radio 4 at present, I’ve been enjoying the discussions, debates, and plays on offer. But how did I get here?

Bye Bye Radio

From tapes, to MiniDiscs, to CDs, I’ve spent countless hours creating playlists and recording it to the media of the moment. Where MP3s triumphed was speed, create a playlist on your computer and seconds later it’s copied to a USB stick. Roll forward a few years and, with all my music stored on my iPod, a quick sync was all it took to update several playlists and I had hours and hours of music at my fingertips.

An avid consumer of new music, I’d scour review sites and buy several new albums every fortnight or so, soon building a bank of new artists and albums (yes, I had a system for this to make sure everything got a good rotation).

So with my appetite for music being whetted elsewhere, and perhaps with my advancing years, I looked around for something a little less full-on for my morning commute.

Talk is cheap

Most mornings I’ll listen to the news as I drive to work, although it depends how much tolerance I have for whatever topic they are manhandling into a forced argument on any given day. Leaving work at odd hours to drive home (sometimes mid-afternoon, sometimes late evening) meant I was exposed to more of the planning and soon found I was getting drawn in and seeking out more alternatives.

Hello Podcasts

Podcasts are not new, I’ve listened to a few now and then but in the past, with my association for radio (which is still how I view podcasts oddly) being music, none of them ever stuck. Perhaps I was just listening to the wrong podcasts, god knows there are some awful ones out there but that’s the same for everything.

However, I was determined to find podcasts that work for me, so after a fair bit of digging I’ve not got a nice workable solution that gives me a selection of podcasts available to me on any of my Apple devices.

The latter part of that solution is provided by Downcast, a multi-device podcast app which syncs my playlists. It’s installed on my iPhone, my iPad, and both MacBooks, so if music isn’t cutting it I can get to many different podcasts and usually find something to keep my attention.

Admitedly some of my these aren’t strictly podcasts but recordings of radio shows but I’ve never really been one for following rules, all I know is that they are spoken word recordings that give me an option when the radio fails me and I’m not in the mood for music.

My current playlist includes:

Do you listen to podcasts? If so, any recommendations to share?

Tackling Tasks

Tasks in motion

I have a terrible memory. I am aware of this flaw and rely heavily on a variety of systems to help me cope. The main things that help me remember to Get Shit Done is Google Calendar (should I be somewhere right now?) and a list of things I need to remember to do (what tasks should I be doing next?).

I don’t follow any methodolgy for how I manage my to do list, I’ve read books, articles, and follow various productivity related blogs as I’m always happy to tweak my system but it’s important to note one thing, dear reader, before you continue; This is my system. It works for me. It may not work for you.

Warning: I am totally geeking out on this. Read on at your own peril.

Short version: I use Todoist.

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What lies behind

She waits for the bus, her shopping trolley standing to attention at her side, the scuffed tartan material marking times past. She looks old, worn but upright. Head up, shoulders back, there is still some fight in there and she definitely, defiantly, isn’t finished with life just yet. Her face is set straight and stoic, a woman of her time, deep wrinkles betray a life of laughter long gone.

As the leaves kick and hop along the gutter at her feet she pulls her long dark jacket around herself to block the winds sneaky fingers; she never feels warm these days, not properly.

There is still a chill in the air on this dull March morning; long grey clouds scroll overhead and a thin smear of rain softens the morning light, clinging to jackets, dripping from umbrellas. Red traffic lights create a crawling conga of cars as the morning news is delivered through a multitude of differing drones, each voice reflecting the weary sobriety as the world quietly continues its inevitable descent.

Out of the corner of my eye a flash of colour appears, yellow and red, as it zig-zags unevenly along the pavement; a toddler splashing in puddles with unhidden abandon. She launches into the next pool of water with both feet, water still flying as she lands and turns to look at her mother behind her, delight etched wide on her face. Under her hat, golden locks curl and tumble, tiny hands protrude from her coat as she claps them together with glee. A ray of light in hyper-action on this slow, flat morning.

The old lady waiting for the bus turns at the noise, the skin on her neck tightens with the movement as she looks for the source. Her eyes find the young girl, shining and bright on such a drab morning, and in her bus stop she smiles gently. The girl and her mother wander past, searching for the next puddle to explore on their journey.

I sit in my car, cocooned from the world, separated from the dull noise of the morning news by my view, a tiny moment of my day.

I watch as they smile, unknowing. The grey lady and the bright child. I wonder what they are thinking.

The car in front of me moves off and I follow obediently, leaving behind a glimpsed moment and unanswered questions. Such is the pattern of life.

Email

Too many emails

Like it or loathe it, email is a fundamental part of most people’s lives. Managing your email account can be time draining battling and I’ve flirted with a variety of strategies to get to where I am today which is, for me, a practical way to keep on top of my email inboxes.

I have two email accounts. One for work. One for personal use. The latter includes different types of emails for different purposes; emails about websites I maintain, personal emails from family and friends, notifications from online accounts and everything else that tends to fall into most email inboxes every day.

How I use email

The ability to receive email on multiple devices is seen as a boon of the modern age. I’ve turned off email on my iPad to trying and change my usage pattern and that seems to have worked. I use my iPad for leisure activities almost exclusively these days so I’m keeping it, mostly, clean of anything even remotely related to “productivity”.

I only have two email accounts to make it easier for me to manage and I use a similar approach for both accounts; I read everything I need to read, action what I need to immediately and everything else goes to Todoist. The only differences between work and personal accounts are driven by the functionality available. For work I have one big long inbox in Outlook which emails stay in after triage, for personal use (which I prefer) I move anything I’ve actioned to the Google’s All Mail folder, which keeps my inbox also empty, but never quite zero.

For me the biggest change to how I used to handle email was to make decisions on each email. Either reply or action it immediately, store it away if it’s worth storing, set a reminder/task to look at it later, or delete it.

Yes, delete. Or at the very least mark it as read and move on. I’m a firm believer that if something is important it will bubble up again.

Inbox Zero

The slightly anal tidy freak in me loves this idea. A nice clean empty inbox at the end of every working session, that sense of achievement, that everything is cleaned away. Oh yes, Inbox Zero sounds great.

In reality I’m quite happy to use my inbox as a pseudo-task list. It might not hold the actual task but will hold relevant information that I need to action. That means at any given time there are a few emails in my inbox. It’s also a nice visual way to push me to take action on things that may have hovered around for a while; when my inbox gets to 10 or more it’s time to clear out down as much as I can.

When that time comes I’ll archive what I might need later, and delete the rest. I’ve always had grand plans of going through my GMail archive and moving information I want to keep to Evernote but, as yet, it’s not been pressing enough for me to do.

Email on iOS

Treating email as tasks, or at best reminders, is something I’ve been doing for a while, so when new email apps started to appear for iOS that were more focussed on that way of working I was keen to try them. The first one I tried, and the one that stuck for a long time, was Mailbox.

I love the idea of Mailbox, being able to triage my Gmail inbox, move emails to folders and have other emails ‘reappear’ when I want to action them was a useful way of keeping my inbox manageable. However, over time it became more of an overhead having two places that were acting as reminder services. ToDoist has richer functionality and as I started to adopt that more and more, ultimately Mailbox became just a separate app on my phone that I was using to access my personal email (it only connects to GMail).

For my work email I was using the default Mail app which did the job required perfectly well. However, with my use of Mailbox changing it soon became apparent that what I really needed was one email app on my phone that would let me manage both accounts.

I looked around at some other mail apps and ended up with CloudMagic purely because it allows me to view both my GMail and my work email in one place, and, unlike the default Mail app, the emails are easily distinguishable with a simple coloured sidebar denoting which account an email is from.

Bonus: CloudMagic recently updated to include support for both Pocket and Evernote making it easier to capture articles or information from my inboxes.

Controlling my email

Outside of the apps there is one more thing I’ve been trying recently, specifically during my working day. I’ve adapted some advice I read and I’m only checking my emails three times a day. Once when I get into the office in the morning when I triage anything that’s come in over night (working with teams in California and Indonesia means a lot of overnight emails), once just before lunch in case there is anything urgent needing dealt with, and once before I leave the office (or finish my working day if I’m at home).

For personal email, I try and use the same time slots but I’m a little more relaxed about those.

I don’t think there is a clean answer for dealing with email. By it’s very nature incoming email is not focused so the triage step is what works for me, and sticking with that gives me confidence I’m doing the right thing for any given email at any given time.

It only occurs to me now as I write this post that I’ve spent more time trying to figure out how to manage my email than any other part of my working, connected, life. I will continue to tweak things but a lot of my working habits haven’t changed in years… and you know what they say, if ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

Health, Fitness and Exercise

Trigger-alert: I am overweight, this post discusses my own issues and challenges with my diet, my self-image and my exercise regime.

Is this fitness?

In my, seemingly eternal, battle to lose weight I was recently quite pleasantly surprised to hear that my resting heart rate is 64 bpm which despite my fears, suggestions that I’m actually fairly fit (and yes, I’m aware that it’s not that simple a ratio but as one of many indicators I’m taking it as a good sign, small victories and all that).

Yet, despite that little boost to my ego, I’m still not happy with my health. I may be reasonably fit but that doesn’t hide the fact that I’m also overweight. Clinically, I am obese, a word that pulls in many emotional and negative connotations so I tend to stick with overweight (but not fat).

I’m tackling this all with the understanding that there is no quick fix here.

Tracking Food

I know why I’m overweight – ohh hey, here’s a secret, most people know why they are overweight! – but simply knowing why isn’t enough. Obviously it helps to understand and I’ve slowly put some practices, mental and physical, in place to help myself but even knowing what I’m doing wrong doesn’t stop me repeating my bad habits.

My diet isn’t too bad, I use portion control for the most part and try not to binge eat too much but I’m an emotional eater so need to watch myself when I’m running out of emotional energy or get too stressed (note to self: February 2014 is your textbook example of what NOT to do).

I know should cut down on eating fatty foods (hello pizza, burgers and chips) and I’ve recently started tracking everything I eat, good and bad, and that has already helped; not so much the data I’m collecting but the act of logging everything is a constant reminder so that when I next go to buy a Mars bar, I know I’ll need to log it… guilt can be a powerful ally!

Focussing on fitness

My weight is the main thing I need to change as it is putting strains and stresses on my joints, isn’t doing my blood pressure any good and, largely because I don’t like the way it makes me look. I’m pretty comfortable with my size on the whole, I’m just over 6’ tall so I ‘carry it well’ but I would feel a lot more confident if I could shift a few pounds.

A quick note. I’m just over 40 years old, I grew up with the imperial measuring systems – feet and inches, stones and pounds – but increasingly any interactions with health care professionals are (rightly) in metric. I’m 186cm tall and weight around 105kg.

I’m a goal oriented guy so to give myself a kick to get regular exercise I’ve set myself a goal of running 400km over the course of this year. It’s achievable, my knee should cope with it (I have a longstanding issue with my left leg that I am tackling with physio but which limits the distances I can run) and so far I’m pretty much on track despite only managing one run in February but, as I accounted for some downtime when setting the goal, I’m still confident of hitting the target.

But I need to exercise more and right now I’m trying to figure out what to try next.

Which exercise is right for me?

I like playing sports. I like being outdoors. I have never really been a fan of the gym as it’s the antithesis of the previous two points and, if I’m honest, I use that as an excuse not to go. I need to stop that but, as Winter turns to Spring I wonder if I need to bother with that right now.

At present I play basketball once a week for about 90 minutes (we have the court for two hours but play in rotation), and at present I’m managing about one run a week on average. I will start cycling to work again in a few weeks time too, or even just go out for a wee spin now and then. I’ve signed up for Pedal for Scotland, and I’m also aiming to spend a week cycling to Tollcross (about 50 mins cycle each way) during the Commonwealth Games.

Trends

If I can keep up the running and cycling those exercise activities, plus basketball, should give me enough cardio exercise so I need to look at other areas to get more exercise. That’s where the fun begins, which of the many current ‘trends’ should I try?

The choice is endless, the list above is purely off the top of my head. Of them all, I’ve tried the 7 minute workout and might go back to it (better the devil you know), but if I can find an outdoor, local, Bootcamp I might sign up for that too.

Ultimately, things like CrossFit and P90X look too easy to ‘fail’ at, so my mindset (I don’t like to fail) will put me off them for the time being.

One item not on the list is Yoga. I’ll be honest and say it gives me the fear! I know I need to improve my flexibility and that it would help but finding a class that I think suits me has proven tricky. Or is that just another set of excuses?

Mind Over Matter

Ultimately I know that, as cliched as it sounds, I’m the only person that can make a difference to my weight. I have high blood pressure and get weighed as part of my attendance at the hyper-tension clinic every few months. I’m on medication to keep my blood pressure low but to get the dosage of that lowered, and so decrease the chances of my liver and kidneys getting screwed over by the meds, I need to do more to lower my weight.

My weight has been, for the last year, consistently just over 100kg. It peaked at 107kg and, unfortunately has never really headed back down the way. The challenge is to break the 100kg barrier and keep it below there. The first marker will be to get to 95kg (just under 15 stone) which will be significant as I don’t ever remember weighing anything other than 15 stone something or other … apologies for the metric vs imperial switching.

That 100kg line is proving a difficult one to break and I know it’s all down to my mental approach. I know I need to be patient and that over time the weight will drop, I know that weighing myself once a week and seeing 1kg lost is healthy and sustainable but that part of my brain is continually fighting against the heft of historical data that states “you are overweight”, and the longer that fight goes on, the harder it seems to be to break.

Fighting my own image

I am overweight. I will state that clearly even though I don’t like admitting it. I don’t like failing and being overweight is a very obvious and physical reminder, every single day, that I am failing.

Part of me knows that I should make peace with this, accept who I am and find a way to be comfortable with my body shape. I know I will never be a chiselled god with a rippling six-pack but I would like to be a different shape. I’m happy with most parts of my anatomy, I’m fairly confident I’ve got good legs, I just wish the “beer belly” wasn’t hanging above them.

So, I need to mix things up. I need to change things, really change things. Push myself and stop finding easy excuses (ohhh how easy this is to write!).

At the moment I’m considering revisiting the 7 minute workout. Whilst it is a ‘fad’ and evidence suggests that it’s not actually that effective on it’s own, I’m hoping that building the habit will be what benefits me in the long run, creating a mindset of ‘healthy’, and a lifestyle that supports that aim will finally see me affecting the change I’ve long desired.

I’ve past my 40th birthday, for so long a distant marker by which I’d have all this figured out. I haven’t. I’ve failed. But I’m not going down without a fight!!

iOS Apps

I’ve not indulged in a tech/gadget post for a while, so forgive me (or don’t!).

The ever changing merry go round

I’ve mentioned before my strive for ‘better’. It’s a constant part of my life and, considering that I spend a lot of my life using my iPhone, that means I’m always on the look out for better ways to get things done.

Here’s my current home screen:

My iOS Apps

There is some notion to the arrangement of my iOS apps, although it’s the one thing I tweak quite often; ideally I’d be happy if there were an ‘auto-arrange by usage’ option as that’s how I try and group things on my home screen. That said, I do put some apps there to force usage, current example being Downcast. I’ve not really been a big podcast listener in the past, but I’m trying to nurture my growing love for spoken word radio, hence it’s current position on the home screen.

For the most often used iOS apps – email, tasks, calendars and various writing tools – there is a general theme for the apps I use most frequently, they work and sync across all of my tech (iPhone, iPad and MacBooks). Some are backed by Google technology (mail and calendars) but given I use my phone for both personal and work use, my system is deliberately built around those dual uses.

Read on for the full list…

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Our Poly Setup

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts can be found at www.polymeansmany.com.

Kirsty and I had talked for a while about what a poly relationship may look like for us; we knew we didn’t have a definite idea in mind but we talked through a lot of ‘what ifs’ to see if there was anything we did or didn’t want, or anything that just didn’t fit with our idea of what a poly relationship constitutes. It’s hard to foresee the future of course, but we had a general idea of what we hoped we would get from embracing polyamory.

We’d tried seeing other people, briefly, before. Kirsty had seen someone else for a few weeks, and I had been on a couple of dates. The timing wasn’t quite right though so we paused things at that point and discussed things a little more before we decided to try again.

At that point, I was lucky enough that the woman I’d dated a couple of times and gotten on well with, Clare, was open to going on another date, and in that funny way that life can sometimes work, at a similar time Kirsty met Mark. Clare and I went on a few more dates, the attraction grew, and it became evident that we were falling for each other. Mark and Kirsty were headed the same way.

The timing of all four of us coming together was down to lady luck, but the fundamental philosophy (for want of a better word) that we all share is what has made what we have today possible.

Considering Love

One thing that is important to us all is that we decided not to have the notion of Primary and Secondary partners. Yes, Kirsty and I have a longer history but for us it was important to acknowledge the fact that we believe that it is possible to love more than one person and so the idea of one partner having more influence or sway over the set of relationships than another seemed wrong.

Balance

I’ve mentioned balance before and it’s something we all try and find. It means being honest when you want to see more of someone than you have, or when you need some ‘me’ time. It’s been 8 months now and, for the most part, we’ve got things figured out.

One key part of our dynamic that is more circumstantial than planned, is that we all live alone, so a lot of the time we need to consider who is going to stay where on a given night. It also means it’s easier to have a quite evening to yourself.

Changes will happen

We still have things to learn and experiences to go through. We’ve yet to go away on holidays with each other, nor have we really been in any situations that demand a choice be made of one partner over another (you know, those +1 things that you just know would be easier if you didn’t have to ask for a +3), and for now none of us are looking to date anyone else.

Regardless, we will talk and figure these things out as we move forward. Changes will happen, some may mean hard decisions have to be made but we are all aware of this and will continue to be honest with each other, talk to each other and do our best to make the most of something that is making us all very happy.